Photograph by Ralph Lee Hopkins
Weddell Seal Range
- Average life span in the wild:
- 30 years
- 10 ft (3 m)
- 1,200 lbs (544 kg)
- Group name:
- Size relative to a 6-ft (2-m) man:
Weddell seals spend much of their time below the Antarctic ice. They have the southernmost range of any seal, but find the chilly waters rich with the prey they seek. These seals do not migrate often and are commonly found within a few miles of their birthplace.
By swimming under the ice, these seals can often avoid their main predators—orcas and leopard seals. The environment helps their own fishing as well. When feeding below the ice, they may dive beneath their prey. As the seal rises, the fish above it are backlit by the ice above and easily spotted in silhouette. Weddell seals can also use air to collect a meal. They have been known to blow air into cracks in the ice. The surprise tactic puts small fish to flight, which the seal then devours. Cod and silverfish are favorites, though these seals also eat small crustaceans, octopuses, and other marine creatures.
Weddell seals can dive up to 2,000 feet (610 meters) down and stay under for up to 45 minutes. But no matter how deep they dive, like all marine mammals, they must surface to breathe. If natural openings are not available, Weddell seals use their teeth to open and maintain air holes in the ice pack.
Weddell seals are very vocal. Their calls can be heard from atop the ice even when seals themselves are below. The seals "haul out" onto the ice to rest, molt, or give birth. Females usually have one pup in September or October. These young are silver or golden (their parents are gray) and can swim by two weeks of age.
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